Student researchers, keynote speakers present at WiSTEM Club’s annual Research Symposium


Sabrina Zhu

WiSTEM club member Michelle Jin (11) pours water into a cup of “magic” sand. WiSTEM officers and members organized the Research Symposium under the guidance of club adviser and upper school science department chair Anita Chetty.

by Sabrina Zhu, STEM Editor

The upper school’s Women in STEM (WiSTEM) club hosted the 16th annual Research Symposium, themed “STEM Will Save Us,” in-person, on April 16 for the first time in two years.

At Symposium, over 50 upper and middle school research teams presented their projects through poster sessions held in the Rothschild Performing Arts Center (RPAC) and the Athletic Center. Projects covered a diverse range of scientific fields, including human biology, astronomy and machine learning, and were sponsored by upper and middle school teachers or university professors. 

Nine upper school students – Prakrit Jain (12), Natasha Matta (12), Rishab Parthasarathy (12), Sasvath Ramachandran (12), Leisha Devisetti (11), Amruta Dharmapurikar (11), Ashley Ruan (11), Nidhya Shivakumar (11), Varun Fuloria (10) and William Zhang (10) – also gave 20-minute long speaker presentations about their research projects, spanning subjects such as plant ecology and medical diagnoses.

“I thought [giving a live presentation] would be a good opportunity to share my findings with the community as well as a good opportunity for myself to build on my speaking skills, especially in terms of confidence,” Ashley said.

In addition to exploring research projects conducted by students, upper school science department chair and WiSTEM club adviser Anita Chetty worked with WiSTEM officers to organize five keynote addresses. In the morning, Dr. Kamini Varma, the vice president of genetic testing solutions research and development at Thermo Fisher Scientific, spoke about her team’s experience developing COVID-19 testing technology. Afterward, Dr. Yanbing Li, senior vice president of engineering at Aurora, discussed emerging approaches to designing self-driving vehicles. In the afternoon, alumni Senan Ebrahim (‘08) and Hassaan Ebrahim (‘11) shared how they started their medical nonprofit organization Hikma Health

To wrap up the event, Snap Finance’s chief security officer Upendra Mardikar spoke about the importance of cybersecurity, and chief executive officer of Calorify, Hari Mix, explored the impacts of climate change on Mount Everest. Each keynote speaker gave an approximately 45-minute long speech and then answered audience-submitted questions.

“I think the keynotes are always fascinating,” said Head of School Brian Yager, who regularly attends Research Symposium. “I love seeing the Harker students and also alumni presenting, giving back and talking about their own experiences now or previous experiences and how they’ve led to career [successes].”

Throughout the day, attendees explored various interactive stations, such as the STEM Buddies booths. Organized by WiSTEM members, the STEM Buddies program was directed toward elementary school students and consisted of 10 experiments, including studying the properties of water and playing with non-Newtonian fluids. As a part of STEM Buddies, upper school students in the human anatomy and physiology table provided tours of the Anatomage table in the Nichols building.

“I came to the Symposium because I’m interested in science,” fourth-grader Rebeca Costin said. “I think my favorite thing so far was the sand table, and I’m looking forward to finishing the STEM Buddies [stations].”

Fourth grader Rebeca Costin strings ultraviolet (UV) beads onto a bracelet. Younger students played with UV beads and interacted with other science experiments at the STEM Buddies stations. (Sabrina Zhu)

WiSTEM began organizing Symposium in the spring of 2021, with officers reaching out to industry professionals and alumni, planning student poster sessions and advertising ticket sales. The club split into smaller teams that each tackled different aspects of Symposium.

“A major part was making sure that everyone was registered properly and printing out name tags,” said WiSTEM Vice President of Internal Affairs Malar Bala (12). “Registration is a huge deal because it’s how we keep track of everything. Since we use the campus and there are a lot of new people coming on campus, [we were] putting together signs and planning layouts.”

Through the Research Symposium, the WiSTEM club hopes to inspire young students to pursue STEM activities and careers. Club members also hope to share their love for the sciences and provide students with the opportunity to present their own research and learn from other Symposium attendees.

“I love this symposium, and I think it’s really a wonderful way to see the students work,” Yager said. “There’s so much great science going on. I always feel stimulated when I’m here by speakers but also by seeing all the interesting things that students are doing. It’s a great insight into the outstanding Harker students and their minds.”